There are some movies you judge on merits alone. Others, on good intentions.
I think Red Dawn, a re-make of a 1984 film starring Patrick Swayze, is meant to be an inspiration to adolescents. This isn’t meant to disparage the movie or the demographic; what will resonate is the sense of wanting to matter in a world that still considers you small and superfluous. As the protagonist, Jed, says to rally his young charges as they face insurmountable odds: “We’re outnumbered and outgunned, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make a difference.”
It’s also about sibling rivalry and hidden grudges. The younger brother, Matt, played by Josh Peck (a newcomer to the movie scene, but well-known as one of the stars of the Nickelodeon show, Drake & Josh) still seethes that big-bro Jed, played by Chris Hemsworth, enlisted in the Marines and, he feels, abandoned him after their mother died.
Matt is still in high school, and he’s moody, sensitive, and independent-minded. Jed served for six years in Iraq, and he seems to be the polar opposite: fully focused on duty, honor, and obligation. He’s strictly by-the-book and says a lot of oo-rah things, such as “Marines don’t die. They go to Hell and regroup.”
Jed is back on leave just in time to witness an army of invaders overtaking their town and apparently, much of the country. The young men and their friends flee as the adults are captured by the marauders; they gather at a remote cabin and decide it is up to them to put a stop to this invasion. The young rebels train in the woods and learn how to use weapons and defend themselves and, seemingly instantly, are all crack-shots with an endless supply of self-replenishing ammunition. They call the group the Wolverines, based on the name of the high school mascot.
It struck me that as the movie wears on, there are more bro-tastic emotional moments per capita than any movie you’ll ever see; in fact, more than you’ll encounter in real life. There just isn’t usually a lot of time to engage in catharsis and rapprochement when an invading military force is trying to extinguish you and your crew, but hey! At the movies, anything’s possible.
In the bleak landscape, between shotgun and mortar blasts, there were quiet passages, and my wandering mind made me realize I wasn’t fully engaged in this movie, try as I might. I started to notice things such as the fact that in the nighttime scenes, the actors’ movie-star teeth seem blindingly white, which you’d think would have gotten them all shot on sight!
The players who really hold their own are Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson, who plays Robert, part of the group of young rebels. Hemsworth’s American accent is so convincing that I had to check online to make sure the actor really is Australian (he is). This movie was filmed in 2009, prior to Hemsworth’s turn as Thor and to Hutcherson’s role in The Hunger Games, so neither was well-known at that point, but both turn in fine performances as fully-dimensional characters.
Tom Cruise’s son, Connor Cruise, made his debut quietly and effectively underplayed his role, which at a particular point was pivotal. (On a preachy side note, I specifically didn’t say, “Tom Cruise’s adopted son, Connor Cruise.” Once you adopt a child, the adoption process ends. That’s your child. End of story. I’ve never noticed any other actor’s progeny referred to in that way, even the kids of Brangelina.)
The film plods along predictably until three-quarters of the way through, when something shocking and unexpected happens that removes the element that held the film together. Thereafter, the dénouement seems rote and uninspired. Overall, it just seemed like a long trip with no particular destination, but teens may have a different take. Just as with any movie, if you think you’ll like it, go see it. Popcorn, soda, candy, and two solid performances are really not a bad deal.